Have Bing and Yahoo! Given Up the Search Race?

The-Makegood_Chris_Tuleya_260The continued meteoric rise of Google as the top US and International search engine raises the question of whether Google is great at marketing themselves or whether Yahoo! and Bing have just given up the search fight.

Tell someone outside of the marketing industry that Google.com’s share of US searches has reached 67.6% and you would likely be met with indifference if not surprise that it isn’t higher. After all, Google is its own verb synonymous with searching. When taking a look at Google’s share outside of the US, they have a larger footprint in all but four countries: China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Only in China and South Korea are they not in the top two.

In 2009 Microsoft earmarked $80 million to promote Bing across digital and traditional channels here in the US. During that time their market share grew from 8.4% to 11.5%. That translates into a cost of $25.8 million per percentage point increase. While their current market share has Bing at 19.2% of US searches, most of that growth can be attributed to the rapid decline of Yahoo! (Yahoo! recently fell to 9.8% of total US searches) and Microsoft’s incorporation of Bing into every new product they develop. Certainly, Bing isn’t making a dent in Google’s usage.

The numbers may indicate that Bing hasn’t given up, but Yahoo! surely has. However, these three things indicate the game is indeed over for both:

  1. Microsoft is letting Yahoo! lead the client engagements. When the two engines partnered it was clear that Yahoo! was going to be the face of the relationship, while Microsoft would stay in the background keeping the engine running. Anyone who has ever put forward an urgent request knows that Yahoo! doesn’t have any pull in the relationship and is just playing middle-man. The lag time in response leaves a bad taste in advertisers’ mouths. If Microsoft wants to break away and compete, they must take the reins back.
  2. The ‘Bing it On’ challenge actually supported Google as the preferred search engine. According to a study performed by a Yale Law School professor, participants preferred Google 53% to 41%. This campaign clearly didn’t bode well for Bing since their challenge campaign hasn’t run in 2014.
  3. No one likes change. 10 years back Yahoo! had the chance to compete, but blew that opportunity by sitting back and letting Google advance the industry and the popularity of search. Narrowing a 48-point gap is a daunting task that marketing dollars alone can’t address. At this point, it would require a fundamental shift in search behavior to alter the landscape significantly. If Google drops the ball, a shift is possible, but I doubt that will happen.

If this were a presidential election, it would be called well before the west coast polls had even closed. Google did everything right 10 years ago while Yahoo! did everything wrong and Microsoft was just late to the game. Even if Microsoft is not looking to be the leader in the space, but just trying to capture revenue from the estimate $55.7 billion to be spent in the space they have some major work to do.

This column was written by Chris Tuleya, Vice President, eDR, at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for their column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month.